The phone rang, throwing off Giovanni's narrative before it could really begin. I didn't want to answer it, but it was my job. I tucked the books under my arm and headed for the front desk. Giovanni trailed behind me, the diary still open to its first passage. He was quiet again, as he'd been when he'd first come in with Saffron. As I reached for the handset, I wondered how anyone who loved books could have an apparent fear of libraries.
"Pundit, I was watching the news, are you alright?!"
The voice was undeniably familiar, but out of place. It was her. She had never sounded so worried, and it presumably had something to do with me. I felt something in my chest start hammering on my bones, not sure if it was good or not. It certainly hurt. I kept my hand at my side, holding the books in place, even though I wanted to drop them and clutch at my chest. "I'm fine, Great-Aunt Constance
Her voice was still taut, like a tightrope. "But there was a shooting!"
Regardless of the fact that I had no idea what she was talking about, I was too busy being perplexed about her calling at all to figure out anything else. "Slow down, I don't"
"In West End, there was a shooting! Seven dead, and four wounded," she rattled off as though she'd memorized the newscast. "I saw it only just now, and I had to call you. Why are you in your flat, and what number is this?"
Of course. She'd probably called my flat first and gotten the shops number from the message I'd recorded on the answering machine. Everything made a little more sense now. But I wished that she'd been calling about something more valid. "I'm fine, Great-Aunt Constance, I don't live in West End." It wasn't even the right country. Good thing I hadn't tried to call her before, she must have moved and forgot to tell me.
There was a brief pause, broken only by an unembarrassed "Ah. I see. So sorry to bother you, it won't happen again."
She hung up before I could beg her to go on and bother me regularly in future. For a few moments, I just stood there, holding the phone in an angrily shaking hand. Then I dropped it at the sound of a throat being cleared. Giovanni caught the phone, but then he went a few thousand miles too far and hugged me. I wondered what sort of family he came from that he could only seem to go five minutes without physical human contact. Maybe I could counteract it by tapping him on the shoulder occasionally.
When he pulled back, he had an apology on his face, which surprised me. "You needed a hug," he said, simple as a comment about the weather. Then he put the phone back in its cradle. "Even though I don't think you like them."
That should have hit home or merely exasperated me. But I only felt amused. I actually smiled and started back to the bookcase I'd abandoned to answer the phone. "You might say that."
"I did say that that."
"Bravo, then." It had nothing to do with how crazy I thought he was, but I wasn't in a hurry to field anymore hugs. Especially not when I needed one.
He skipped after me, narrowly avoiding stacks of books I'd yet to ever shelve. "No more phone calls, right?"
I put the second book of the Dark Matter Entropy series in its place by an unsold first volume. "Doubtful it's the last ever, but I don't think there will be any more today. Tomorrow will be busier."
Anyone else might have asked why, but Giovanni just seemed happy to have his first question answered favorably. He sat down on the floor and made a big show of finding his place in the diary. "Here we are. 'Three days after my birthday.' He didn't come to the party, but after everyone else went to sleep, Niccolo threw pebbles at my window." Then he looked up from the book with a puzzled frown. "I don't know some of these words."
Intrigued, I shelved the remainder of my current armful of books and walked over to get a look. "Are they obscure, or maybe a dialect you don't know?"
"More like a language I don't know." He stood up and showed me, dragging his finger along a lengthy passage. "It looks kind of like French or Spanish, but not. I can understand Spanish a little, and I'm pretty sure this isn't it."
I took the book from him and examined the entry he'd indicated. "No, you're right. It's not Spanish. It looks like Portuguese. Hang on, I'll get a dictionary."
"You've got a Portuguese-Italian dictionary just sitting around here?"
"Of course not
" I narrowly avoided tripping over a pile of Ron L. Hubbard collections on my way to the reference section. "Portuguese English, but that's good enough, isn't it?" I'd initially assumed it would be, but now I wasn't so sure.
Giovanni certainly looked dubious. "Whoever wrote this apparently didn't know any English. Going in between three languages is gonna be tough." He took the dictionary from me anyway. "Especially since I don't know one of them."
This was probably the most down-to-earth I'd ever seen him. And even with everything he was saying, he was still thumbing through the dictionary, apparently looking for the words that were in the diary. Watching him do all this work made me feel rather selfish. "It's not important. Don't worry about it
He looked up from the book and actually shushed me. "I'm conjugating."
Duly chastised, I got back to my own work and started moving book stacks from the floor to shelves, so we wouldn't have to walk to another part of the shop. After a few minutes of concentrated silence, Giovanni stretched his arms behind him and leaned back, away from the two open books in front of him. "Looks like she didn't really know Portuguese either
What do you mean?"
"Well, I was afraid it'd be full of informal language and slang, but it's straight out of a dictionary." He nudged the dictionary I'd lent him with his foot. "And she keeps dropping out of it back into Italian. It's really weird."
"Maybe she meant it as a sort of code
to keep it private," I said, seriously wondering where this diary had come from.
Giovanni nodded absentmindedly. "Makes sense. She goes into pretty graphic detail for a while."
Curiosity forced me to ask, even though I didn't really want to know. "Detail of what?"
Anyone else would have blushed or something. Giovanni just tapped the diary page and said, "This first entry is mostly about her losing her virginity."
I dropped a leather-bound copy of A Tale of Two Cities on my foot. It hurt, but I didn't really notice. "Stop reading it, then!"
"Why? By now she's either really old or dead, either way, I doubt she cares any more
" He was still reading it!
I snatched the book away and tried to look authoritative. "Then why would she go to the trouble of writing it in code?"
"Because it used to matter," he said, in an off-hand manner I couldn't help finding offensive. "So I guess you don't want me to translate this bit out for you, then."
With this incident, I was beginning to rethink my decision to let him translate any of it out loud or at all.
Ha. 'Let'. I'd asked him to do it, hadn't I? He was only doing what I'd asked of him. I should have considered the consequences more carefully. "N-no. I do not. Maybe I should just take that back n"
"But you said I could read it!"
"I shouldn't have done that," I said, resisting the urge to pinch the bridge of my nose. "It was wrong of to give in to my curiosity at the cost of someone's privacy."
Giovanni snorted. "You don't even know her name."
Carla, she says. It could be another lie, though."
My mind had a smart reply all ready to go, but my mouth got ahead of it. "What do you mean, 'another' lie?"
He stood up and closed the diary on his thumb, saving his place. "Looks like you're out of books to shelve over here. Should we get some more?"
The way he suddenly dropped the subject, as well as his inappropriate use of the word 'we' silenced me, and I actually followed him back to the front desk. Then he surprised me by proving that he'd actually meant 'we'; he got a handful of books for himself, leaving the diary on the desk with the Portuguese-English dictionary. Then he lead the way to general fiction.
Needless to say, working quietly with Giovanni's help was more than extremely strange. The subject of the diary still buzzed in my mindhow could it not, the way he'd forced me to leave it?but I was too shy to try and bring it up. We made two more trips back to the front desk before I worked up the nerve to keep myself at a halt and finally speak. "I want you to explain."
"The diary, you said she was lying in it. What did you mean?"
"That she was lying, of course."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "Giovanni
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and back, as if he couldn't bear to be still. "I guess calling it 'lying' is kind of harsh. It's just that
the whole bit about her sleeping with that guy is bollocks."
A wince won out over a blush. I stared at Giovanni for a few moments, then gave in to my curiosity for the millionth time that day. "How do you know?"
At first, he didn't answer. Then he scratched his cheek and looked almost hesitant. Shy, even. I might've dropped another book on my foot. "She was telling stories to herself. Maybe being a virgin was a bad thing to her and she didn't want to say the Niccolo didn't even know she existed. Or maybe she wanted to grow up and write dirty novels. Or"
"How can you tell that she made it up?" For once, my voice was strong and relatively commanding.
He looked away, fully refusing to meet my eye. "Because I know what it's really like, stop asking."
Never mind his height, sharing a school with him, I knew he was at least two years younger than me. But he wasn't strutting around, or even bragging in a mild or subtle way. Mostly, he just looked uncomfortable. "But you're
"Only sixteen? So what?" There was more than a slight air of huffing about him, and I would have sworn that his curly black hair was kinking up like crumpled tinsel. "I'm just quicker at growing up."
Something told me I was standing in the middle of forbidden ground, no escape or aide in sight. True, I had Saffron's phone number, but that didn't feel like the right course of action to take right then. "Of course. I'm sorry, it isn't any of my business."
Dropping such a heavy topic should not have been so easy. "It's okay." Giovanni put the last few books he was carrying on a shelf I could only reach with a stepladder. "I have to get home for that family dinner, but I'll see you tomorrow, alright?"
I just nodded dumbly and watched him go, absolutely certain that he didn't mean it. I wouldn't see him tomorrow, or any day after that. I'd started to make friends with him, but then I'd fouled it up somehow. I sighed and hugged a set of Starwinder F books to my chest.